By Rebecca Petit, ABC Action News

A group of faith leaders in Polk County are putting pressure on state officials and law enforcement to appropriately use pre-arrest diversion programs.

Members of the Polk Ecumenical Action Council for Empowerment (PEACE), spent Monday rallying in front of the Polk County Courthouse to send a message that fewer residents should be jailed for minor driving offenses. They say this will prevent thousands of people from ending up in jail.

“Some of them have been arrested for their tag being expired. Some have been arrested for their driver’s license being expired. When that happens, it’s a domino effect on the entire family,” Doretha Tillman of PEACE explained.

The group is pressing State Attorney Brian Haas to better implement Polk County’s adult pre-arrest diversion program (APAD). The policy allows law enforcement to withhold arrests for first-time, non-violent misdemeanors, allowing offenders to avoid criminal records. Yet, PEACE leaders say the program is rarely offered.

“We find it extensive that they are penalized with a lifelong record,” added Terry Bucher of PEACE.

Data from the Polk County Clerk of Courts shows that more than 6,300 people were arrested in 2022 for minor driving offenses. PEACE leaders believe it’s a criminalization of poverty because many of them can’t afford to pay fines and fees and are subsequently arrested for driving on a suspended license.

Annmarie Silveira of PEACE elaborates that she doesn’t believe they are giving anyone a free pass. “We are saying there should be a better alternative than criminalizing people for these types of offenses,” she elaborated.

PEACE leaders say an arrest record limits opportunities for jobs, education, and housing. The group members believe better utilization of the adult pre-arrest diversion program could prevent that.

“People having to miss work and losing their jobs because they were in jail or because they had all these court visits that they had to go to. Not only does it have a life-long arrest record that will show up when you apply for jobs, but it has an immediate effect on people,” added Annmarie Silveira of PEACE.

View the original story here.